Amazon Is The Reader's Friend

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Amazon 398x239 Illustration by Thomas James

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In late 2014, Amazon and the publishing house Hachette settled a months-long dispute over who should set the price for e-books. In Amazon’s view, lower prices mean more sales and more readers, and that benefits everyone. But for publishers, the price of an e-book must reflect the investment made, from the author’s advance to a book’s production. The conflict, resolved for now, has only raised more questions about the value of books, Amazon’s business practices, and the role of publishers. Is book publishing an oligopoly, a dinosaur in need of disruption? Is Amazon, which accounts for 41% of all new book and 67% of all e-book sales, a monopoly? Who is doing right by readers and the future of books?

  • Konrath 90px

    For

    Joe Konrath

    Author & Self-Publishing Pioneer

  • MYglesias 90px

    For

    Matthew Yglesias

    Executive Editor, Vox

  • Franklin Foer 90px

    Against

    Franklin Foer

    Former Editor, The New Republic

  • Turow 90px

    Against

    Scott Turow

    Attorney & Author


    • Moderator Image

      MODERATOR

      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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Konrath 90px

For The Motion

Joe Konrath

Author & Self-Publishing Pioneer

Joe Konrath is the author of several dozen thriller novels. He was traditionally published by Hyperion, Hachette, and Penguin. Since getting his rights back, he's sold over a million ebooks via self-publishing.

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MYglesias 90px

For The Motion

Matthew Yglesias

Executive Editor, Vox

Matthew Yglesias is executive editor of Vox.com, a digital news startup that launched in April 2014. Previously he was the Moneybox columnist at Slate. Yglesias was also a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a blogger for Think Progress, an associate editor for The Atlantic, and a staff writer at The American Prospect. He has authored two books, The Rent is Too Damn High (2012) and Heads in the Sand (2008).

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Franklin Foer 90px

Against The Motion

Franklin Foer

Former Editor, The New Republic

Franklin Foer is the former editor of The New Republic. Before joining The New Republic, Foer was a frequent contributor to the online magazine Slate. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Spin, U.S. News & World Report, Lingua Franca, The Atlantic Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, New York and Foreign Policy. In 2004 he published his first book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

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Turow 90px

Against The Motion

Scott Turow

Attorney & Author

Scott Turow is a writer and attorney. He is the author of ten best-selling works of fiction, including his first novel, Presumed Innocent (1987), and the sequel, Innocent, published by Grand Central Publishing in 2010. His newest novel, Identical, was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2013. He has also written two non-fiction books about his experiences in the law. Turow has been a partner in the Chicago office of Dentons (formerly Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal), an international law firm, since 1986, concentrating on white collar criminal defense, while also devoting a substantial part of his time to pro bono matters. From 2010 to 2014, he was president of the Authors Guild, the nation’s largest membership organization of professional writers. He is an emeritus trustee of Amherst College.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:
 

45% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (22% voted FOR twice, 20% voted AGAINST twice, 3% voted UNDECIDED twice). 55% changed their minds (16% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 5% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 7% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 1% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 14% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 13% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST) | Breakdown Graphic

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    37 comments

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    • Comment Link Lou Renfeld Thursday, 07 May 2015 12:06 posted by Lou Renfeld

      If the For side lost, I'd say it's because they failed to articulate their argument. Joe Konrath particularly seemed out of his depth. His debate skills seem to fall in line with someone who learned debate from online forums.

      I think there are many points they could've argued but didn't, while the Against did their job better. We can speculate and say it was rigged using the online votes as the sole data point, but that is, of course, merely speculation. It could be that, in the context of the debate, the people who were present found the Against more convincing. Which is fair, because if the vote was "Who presented a more cogent/coherent argument?" then I think the Against proved themselves more capable.

      Now, with that said, I still voted For. As I said, I think the points are there: assuming to know Amazon's business model, the business taking a loss as a whole to directly challenge book publishers (a single aspect of their entire business), that the books published by traditional publishers is largely what they sell (so destroying those publishers would be taking a bite out of their own butts in the long-term), the fact that 'destroying literature' would harm the market, a market which they own a huge part of, etc, etc, etc.

    • Comment Link Tammy Monday, 02 March 2015 21:42 posted by Tammy

      I agree with the point that not everyone lives somewhere that books are readily available. I live an hour away from the city. The closest book store is in a small town and they specialize in Christian fiction, not my cup of tea. I am so happy that I can buy books over wifi on my kindle because otherwise I wouldn't have those books readily available.

      On the other hand, it is also true that Amazon is a business and businesses have their own best interests in mind.

    • Comment Link David Norris Sunday, 22 February 2015 18:03 posted by David Norris

      This was in New York City. The big five publishers are based there. They employee a lot of people in that city. If the audience was in Houston, the vote would have gone the other way.

    • Comment Link John Bigelow Friday, 13 February 2015 06:26 posted by John Bigelow

      I echo Jeremey's comments. I came to this web site to understand how the voting result came to to be so different from what I thought I was hearing in the debate. I wanted to understand if the audience was in some way biased.

    • Comment Link Skip Montanaro Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:27 posted by Skip Montanaro

      As I was reading the transcript, I kept thinking that had this debate occurred a decade ago, "Amazon" would have been replaced by "Barnes & Noble." The presumption was that they were killing independent book sellers, and thus short-changing readers. The mechanism was a bit different, but just as Amazon was able to tweak their site to hide Hachette's books, B&N could decide not to feature a particular publisher's or author's works. Of course, independent booksellers could as well, but since there were many of them, contrarian views could still get out.

    • Comment Link BJ Tuesday, 03 February 2015 14:25 posted by BJ

      "Strategic Voting" comment by Yglesias seems very prescient, except it was all going in the direction of the Against camp. For wins Undecideds (14% switch to For vs. 13% switch to Against) but a ridiculous number of For switch to Against (16%); are we to believe somehow the Against argument was more compelling to pre-debate For's than Undecideds. This was a stacked audience with a disingenuous initial vote.

    • Comment Link Miller Caldwell Monday, 02 February 2015 05:17 posted by Miller Caldwell

      Authors are being treated like Milkmen. As farmers see the cost of producing a bottle of milk unprofitable, so too are authors unless they can win film rights. How likely is that? Amazon would have you believe that they work in the best interest of readers and I am sure they do, But the next time you purchase a bottle of milk think what the farmer gets in return; its the same for the author. Not many of us make more than £11K a year. A £9.99 book seems expensive but it can last a week unlike that expensive bottle of red wine drunk in a night. Come on, we all have a need to make a living and so Authors should join the Farmers to get a better deal.

    • Comment Link Jeremy Friday, 30 January 2015 17:43 posted by Jeremy

      This was the first debate I felt practically strong about--it surprised me that iQ2 uses a specific company as a debate topic--I enjoyed the debate but thought the audience was oddly pro-publisher.

      I think the panelists on the pro-side made an excellent argument for the reader but the against-side continued to try to reframe the debate to be "Amazon is the Author's Friend", "Amazon is the Retailer's Friend" or "Amazon is the Publisher's Friend" which are much easier to create arguments to dispute. Neither of these were the topics.

      I think the high "undecided" pre-vote by the audience was rather unique in this iQ2 debate and worthy of speculation that the audience were predisposed to throw the debate to the against-side. If the audience were made up of readers and not those with a bias, I suspect the result would have been closer to the online poll.

      I think location of the debate had more to do in the outcome than the arguments--the organizers may have missed the fact that every large traditional publisher has a NYC office.

    • Comment Link Marja Thursday, 29 January 2015 14:16 posted by Marja

      I haven't bought anything from Amazon, purposefully, for over a year. I read book reviews on their website, but that's all. If what I want is only sold on Amazon, I forgo it. I don't shop at Walmart either. In my opinion, Amazon is the yuppie, of which I am one, answer to Walmart.

    • Comment Link Joel House Tuesday, 27 January 2015 09:21 posted by Joel House

      A most interesting debate. For me the elephant that remains in the room is author marketing. An individual author isn't interested in the success of Amazon, he or she is interested in their own success. Readers buying from Amazon enter a bargain basement where millions of books are available and none stand out unless favored by Amazon. The lone author still must market on their own in order to survive. Amazon markets Amazon. The more powerful they become does not mean anything positive to those who produce. They are a destination website. While the internet has made it possible for anyone with a crayon to publish, finding quality material only becomes more obscure. Amazon is indeed a gate keeper of the "retail market" but no friend to the author or the consumer. All this debate proved is readers and authors are in need of more competition for Amazon, not more retail monopoly.

    • Comment Link john stark Monday, 26 January 2015 10:02 posted by john stark

      The concerns about Amazon are very similar to the concerns about Walmart expressed 25 years ago. Were those concerns legitimate? I think so, The quality of goods has gone down and the source of goods has shifted toward the country which can sell things to walmart most cheaply. Namely China, and all else who can bypass American Laws, designed to protect the worker. We now face the real issue of stagnant wages and immigrant labor under cutting American Workers ability to live unsubsidized lives. These are very real consequences and provide a real and substantial model for what could await the literary industry as Amazon follows the Walmart model of success. Quality is compromised when profits are the only consideration. As we have experienced, the quality of goods decreases as the streamlining associated with the newest human aberration - corpofacism increases, under the guise of lower pricing of goods.

    • Comment Link Rose Monday, 26 January 2015 00:25 posted by Rose

      Some of you don't seem to understand that the tickets for these functions go on sale way before the debate. The people in the audience buy tickets for those debates they are interested in. That is why you see people in the audience in the fields that the debate is about.

    • Comment Link Honoke Friday, 23 January 2015 16:43 posted by Honoke

      The against side's argument seemed to be mainly that Amazon is bad for publishers.... but that's not this debate.

    • Comment Link Matt M Thursday, 22 January 2015 23:45 posted by Matt M

      I do not like the new 30 second speed round feature. If I wanted sound bytes and quick form statements, I could watch beauty pageants or Fox and Friends

    • Comment Link Michael T. Thursday, 22 January 2015 17:34 posted by Michael T.

      @Rob The voting is not scientific, and I don't think IQ2 makes any claims that it is. The idea is for this forum to get the ideas out to more people by making it more fun and competitive; not so much to take the place of Gallup or Pew Forum in regards to public perception.

      The results can be a pointer for which side may have the better arguments, but it's ultimately up to each viewer to weight the arguments and make their own conclusions.

    • Comment Link Cynthia Franks Wednesday, 21 January 2015 22:16 posted by Cynthia Franks

      This debate changed my mind regarding another question that concerns me greatly, is Amazon the writer's friend? Before seeing this debate, my answer was a resounding no. But I think the team arguing for the motion made some great points as well as the team arguing against on the deeper concern. My view is now that having both system is the best situation for the writer. I may even consider publishing on Amazon!

    • Comment Link Rob Friday, 16 January 2015 15:41 posted by Rob

      The voting method seems odd to me and woefully unscientific. And it seemed to me that the panelists who were FOR the motion were like two lone Democrats preaching to a room full of Republicans, if you'll pardon the analogy.

      I'm not sure if the online voting is any more scientific, but I imagine it more closely resembles the truth.

    • Comment Link Cee Friday, 16 January 2015 15:16 posted by Cee

      Who knew that New York was full of Luddites aka publishing industry shills?

    • Comment Link DankaB Friday, 16 January 2015 11:50 posted by DankaB

      I stopped believing any results because of very bias, pre-selected audiences.

    • Comment Link Smart Debut Author Thursday, 15 January 2015 21:07 posted by Smart Debut Author

      Interesting how the votes from the paying audience members are skewed so differently compared to online users from all around the country.

      Funny also that a randomly selected audience member just happened to be a... wait for it... an old-school literary agent! Either that was a heck of a coincidence or publishing industry folk were pretty thick on the ground in that particular audience.

      This debate wasn't held in New York by any chance, was it?

      :D

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